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Topics: Cultural Engagement, Current Events, Marriage

Debunking Marriage Myths

June 27, 2013

by Steve Watters

1415307_23473617The cover story of the June issue of The Atlantic is a poke in the eye of heterosexual marriage. It’s titled “The Gay Guide to Wedded Bliss” and it’s teased like this:

“Research finds that same-sex unions are happier than heterosexual marriages. What can gay and lesbian couples teach straight ones about living in harmony?” Mundy celebrates same-sex unions and deems the institution of marriage we’ve known since the beginning of time as unequal, unfair and unhappy for women.

At least The Atlantic was willing to include a contrarian view. “There is only one problem with the dour and dismal portrait of heterosexual marriage painted by Liza Mundy in this month’s Atlantic cover story,” writes Brad Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project and Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia, “It’s wrong. He elaborates:

Of course, it’s true that some marriages are unequal and unfair, leaving a minority of wives (and husbands) unhappy. And most husbands and wives experience moments or even periods of frustration with their work-family arrangements. Nevertheless, the big picture for marriage in America—for those Americans fortunate enough to have tied the knot—is markedly more rosy than Mundy’s portrait would suggest. Most husbands and wives make about equal total contributions to the paid and unpaid work needed to sustain a family, judge their marriages to be fair, and are happily married.

In her cover story, Liza Mundy follows the pattern of many proponents of same-sex marriage, making a strawman of natural marriage while holding up idealized same-sex couples. Wilcox counters that Mundy is trumpeting myths that aren’t true, showing that the data don’t bear her out.

Regarding the myth of equal contribution, Wilcox explains:

When you combine paid work, housework, and childcare, today’s married parents both put in about 55 hours, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center. It’s true that married mothers do more of the housework and childcare, but in most households this doesn’t amount to an onerous burden for them. That’s because most married mothers do not work full-time (43 percent work full-time) and do not wish to work full-time (just 23 percent wish to work full-time, a fact rarely mentioned in media accounts of work and family life).

On the myth of fairness, he reports that, “73 percent of married fathers and 68 percent of married mothers reported that their marriage was fair, according to the 2010-2011 Survey of Marital Generosity.” And on the myth of happiness, he clarifies that “80 percent of today’s married fathers and 77 percent of today’s married mothers say they are satisfied or very satisfied with their marriage.”

Marriage, goals, and benefits

Wilcox succinctly debunks the myths of inequality, unfairness, and unhappiness. Proponents of natural marriage are indebted to him for this kind of work that he provides on behalf of the National Marriage Project. We have to remember, however, that equality, fairness and happiness are not the primary objectives of marriage anyway. Marriage as God designed it is a venue in which couples don’t seek those goals first. Instead, it’s one in which spouses find their lives by losing them. Marital fulfillment only comes through sacrifice.

“The commitment we call marriage is not a bargain!” wrote Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood over fifty years ago in the book The Recovery of Family Life.  He continues:

“It is a situation in which one gives all that he has, including all his devotion and all of the fruits of his toil. ‘With all my worldly goods I thee endow.’ …The result is that marriage is an amazing relation in which the ordinary rules of business, with its contracts and escape clauses and limited liabilities, are despised and set aside. Marriage is no marriage at all if it is conditional or partial with the fingers crossed. There must be, on both sides, an uncalculating abandon, a mutual outpouring of love and loyalty.”

This is true of all marriages. The benefits always go hand-in-hand with a sacrificial commitment to the responsibilities of marriage. This is a challenging truth—and in fact, it’s the desire to secure the benefits of marriage without having to submit to the sacrificial responsibilities inherent in God’s marital design that often draw people to alternative relationships such as cohabitation and same-sex unions.


The union of a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage is a good thing and is a primary source of human flourishing, even for those who don’t worship God.  We shouldn’t be surprised to see research show that most couples find their marriages to be basically equal, fair and happy despite the myths circulated in an anti-marriage culture. And at the same time, those who are trusting in Jesus Christ are reminded that he never sought out equality, fairness and happiness. Instead, he humbled himself, taking the form of a servant, and endured grossly unfair treatment for the joy set before him in redeeming the church as His bride.  That’s our model and our means.


Steve Watters is the vice president for communications at Southern Seminary where he is also earning a masters in family discipleship. He and his wife Candice are the authors of Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies (Moody Press). They were also the founders of Focus on the Family’s Boundless Webzine.

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